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The Shelves

He allowed her to borrow his comics. “Don’t spill anything on ’em. And don’t draw on ‘em. Bring ‘em back when you’re done. Don’t tell Mama about the ones on the bottom.” Jessie only gave her those instructions once. Lacy knew her big brother Jessie, at fourteen, barely acknowledged the existence of a ten-year-old sister. She, in turn, idolized him so she never pushed past the boundaries so firmly set.

She knocked before entering his room, even when she knew he wasn’t there. Like God, she believed her brother knew everything and knocking first was Law in his world.

In his room the bookshelves ran floor to ceiling, and he’d built them himself. They were mostly scrapwood he refused to let her paint, though she’d offered wistfully during the evenings he’s spent hammering and cursing. Their mother worked at the hospital in the evenings, so she didn’t know about the shelves until they were a part of his room. He’d proudly displayed them to show her how he could help in other parts of the house, like the broken porch rail. Lacey had been gleeful at the thought of her mother’s happy surprise, had helped stuff his books and comics and boyhood paraphernalia into her own closet-sized room. They’d scrubbed his room spotless, made the bed (she couldn’t remember ever seeing it that way before) and waited up for their mother’s return Saturday night, a year ago. His mother had stared, speechless, at the tiny room made smaller by bookshelves that covered every wall save the length of his single bed.

Now, Lacey sat on the floor and started sifting through a new stack of comics. She looked up at the shelves, sorry that Jessie hadn’t let her paint them. Maybe it would have helped.

“Oh, Jessie,” her mother had said, her head swiveling from side to side, her mouth open. “You made these?”

“Well, I borrowed some tools from Mr. Jackson, the shop teacher. He let me cut most everything on the saw at school.”

“I offered to paint them,” Lacey blurted and stopped. She looked at the floor, as Jessie’s eyes flashed at her. She knew she was only a girl and ten. Jessie was supposed to take care of her and that meant she didn’t help make anything.

“Jessie… we rent this house. We can’t build anything onto it. You’ve attached the shelves to the walls. Mr. Garner may or may not like them, but that isn’t the point. This isn’t our house…” her voice trailed away and she put one dry hand on Jessie’s shoulder. He flinched and moved away. His jaw set and his lips flattened together. He shoved his hand into the pockets of his jeans. Lacey wished she hadn’t said anything about the paint. She loved the colors of the wood. Jessie had used different wood, whatever Mr. Jackson gave him – pine, maple, even one shelf of cherry.

“Honey, I’ll talk to Mr. Garner, I’ll make sure he knows you did a wonderful job and that everything is finished and sturdy. Maybe he won’t mind.”

Jessie never said anything – it wasn’t his way. Even when Daddy died and Jessie found him, he didn’t say anything. The shelves stayed, but Mr. Garner made it clear Jessie wasn’t to go “hammering and nailing on somebody else’s walls.”

A year later, Lacey gathered up an armful of her brother’s favorites – Fantastic Four, Superman, Batman – and sneaked a peek at ones on the bottom. Mostly naked girls. She crinkled her nose. She moved to stand and dropped the stack, slick magazines sliding everywhere, under the single bed.

Under the bed. She didn’t have to be told not to go there. Now, she snaked her hand far enough to grasp the edge of her Batman comic.

And out dropped a small box. Small enough to fit in a pocket.

She picked it up and pulled the top off without thinking. Tiny dice rolled out.
At ten, a voracious reader and listener, she knew the dice meant only one thing. Jessie was running down the same path that had claimed the life of their Daddy.

She knew the dice in the box must have appeared when Jessie’s attempts to improve the house were rebuffed. The house that wasn’t their house.

She picked up the little box and pushed it into the pocket of her jeans, gathered up the comics and left, carefully closing the door behind her. She knew he’d never ask her for it – she knew in the way she knew her mother would never look through Jessie’s comics.

Lacey felt the subtle shift in her world, the way it had shifted when her Daddy decided he didn’t want to be her Daddy anymore. She knew it had something to do with the little dice. Maybe she could figure it out if she held on to the talisman, the dice, long enough.


The Question

An exploration of personal fear.


You must choose the one thing you can’t live without, the Universe whispered in my sleeping mind.

One thing? I answered. How can it be one thing? Should I hold out my hands and name them? They hold the pencil, the brush, the needle, the knife that make my art. How could I bear to make no art?

You could learn to manipulate different tools, explore new mediums that require a different dexterity, the Universe mused.

Right, I answered, but what if I say my vision? How could I bear to live without color? without looking into the eyes of those that see inside me, my truest friends? How could I give up my sight?

You would still see all the colors in your mind, your memory. You could feel the warmth of your friends’ love even before they speak. You know what is behind their gaze just as they know what is behind yours.

My ears? To never hear the ocean’s songs, the soft brush of the breeze, a blue jay calling, laughter, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, my name whispered by a lover. No, I couldn’t.

Again – all those experiences are rooted in your memory, to call up and enjoy as you please.

Oh, no – not my memory- you wouldn’t take that. I would have nothing, no soul, no joy, no purpose.

You have named it, the Universe chuckled, but I don’t believe you know it true yet.

I felt the indigo blanket soft and warm and gently crushing colors blurred and ran to a brown sameness, echos of voices and laughter rose and fell until there was no meaning, until finally there was nothing, a velvet void.

I floated. A softness, like a whisper, wrapped around my throat.

“Who are you?” I asked.

The whisper faded, sliding down my throat, over my heart and I felt it move away, its echo growing fainter.


Bits of broken shell

broken.shellsI walked the long, isolated stretch of beach early one morning before the  couples hand-in-hand, or young families eager to explore the limitless playground. Just me, sandpipers and gulls. My bare toes gripped the sand. The tide, quirky and cold washed over my feet, leaving beige sea-foam on my ankles.

By the time I returned, I’d picked up a shopping bag full of shell pieces, yellow and ochre and pink conch worn by the sand and water. I like the remnants best. Perfect shells are beautiful and make intriguing subjects to draw and paint. But I always feel guilty, wondering if the animal that lived there died to give up that perfect shell  into the hands of divers who sell to tourists.

The shells I find on the beach, the ones Nature has deposited at the edge of the Ocean, broken and worn and empty, seem more of a gift, something to remind me of the beauty and capriciousness of the natural world.

It occurred to me as I laid them on the deck railing to dry that we are like those remnants.

The color and form are unique to each shell, the result of its individual journey. Like all of us. We may start from the same place – or seemingly similar circumstances – but by the time we find a resting place on the beaches of our lives we are unique. Broken and re-shaped into something individual and, like the shells lined up on the deck, achingly beautiful.

I stood at the edge

of the ocean

Breathing the solitude

Of sunrise.

I thought,

We are part of this,

like shells brought in

And carried out

On the moving, breathing ocean.

I held a shell in my hands,

Closed my fingers over

Its smooth curving surface.

I thought of you.

Happy New Year

New Year’s Eve. Another year gone, and many of us are resolving to make the coming year different, better. I’ve resolved to stop listening to news reports about public figures acting like simpletons. I’ve resolved to adjust, adjust, adjust. I’ve resolved to listen more, talk less. I’ve decided that there are situations I can do nothing about, and to stop stressing about them. I won’t buy products from companies that treat their employees poorly once I know about it.

I’ve resolved to continue to buy less-make it do, wear it out. I will appreciate things that are offered in abundance like sunny skies, pristine snowfall landscapes, dogs running for the joy of it and a stranger’s smile in the grocery store.

I am grateful for good health, my friends, my cats and a job that pays my bills. I plan to learn as much as I can about things I don’t understand. I plan to make art, write stories and share them with the world.

I hope that anyone who reads this has thought about their own past year and is looking forward to the opportunity to live another one.

Happy New Year!

Almost Christmas

Well, we survived the dire Mayan prediction…whew!

It’s almost Christmas and most of the people I know-family included-are busy with Christmas stuff. My brother called just after the world was supposed to end (sorry, I’ll try to curb any more snide remarks.) We talked a bit about the holidays and his delight in seeing his children and grandchildren. Other people have called for short chats, but I don’t expect to be involved in other people’s holiday whirlwinds. And it’s OK. Really. I like this little bit of time to myself. I like the solitude, time with my cats, especially knowing I’ll be in a new job in a few days. Max and Annie will adjust to my new schedule, as they’ve adjusted to everything, and I hope it affords me more time for writing and art.

I must admit that I haven’t been as industrious with this time as I had originally planned. Actually, I’ve been goofing off. A lot. Watching movies, reading books-thrillers!- and paper mache. That last bit is art so I shouldn’t be apologizing for it. Still, I could have finished a book by now if I’d put my mind to it. Or at least built a new bookshelf or an entire paper mache dragon instead of the lovely, but undramatic cats and bowls I’ve been working on.

Still, I have enjoyed my laziness. In fact, I’m beginning to have trouble getting to sleep because I’m NOT TIRED! So, I guess I should spend the last few days frantically writing and making art. And hiking. The weather was cold and rainy and snowy so I used that as an excuse to curl up with movies and books instead. Tomorrow, though, is Christmas Eve and I’ll be helping Donna at Common Ground. Hopefully we’ll have a good day and make lots of sales. Christmas Day and the 2 days after I’ll work really hard. I will. You’ll see.

Have fun with your friends and families this holiday. And if you can sneak a little time for yourself, curl up with a good movie or book. Take a nap. Be lazy, if only for a few minutes. I don’t want to be the only guilty party making resolutions New Year’s Eve.


End of the world

Today is December 21, the official Mayan end of the world…and it’s snowing in Mars Hill, NC. Well, it’s snowing a little. We might get an inch. I’m glad I decided to stay home and work on writing and art rather than risk getting out on these wendy-windy, hilly, icy roads. An inch doesn’t sound like much but it’s enough if you’re going downhill on a curve nd you hit a patch of ice…and there’s no shoulder, just a  sheer drop. I won’t tempt the end of the world theory by getting out on dangerous mountain back roads.

I’ve been hearing “It’s the end times!!” all my freakin’ life. Really. I’m 59. How can people continue to be scared of something that never happens? Are our memories (as a species) that short? I guess so. Every year-EVERY YEAR-I hear people saying, in surprise, “It was so cold a couple of weeks ago and I got out my coats and gloves and now this week is so warm! Now I’ve got to get out my short-sleeved shirts again! What is with this weather?” Jesus Christ, it’s called Indian Summer and it happens EVERY YEAR. Every year it gets cold, then warms up, then settles down to being cold for the winter.  During the winter, here in the South, we’ll have several cold days, then a couple of warm days. In my hometown, 70 on Christmas day is not unheard of. Here in the mountains, it’s cold. Cold and icy and snowy. And peppered among the really cold days are relatively warm days. So, why are people continually surprised about the weather? Maybe people simply don’t go outside enough. Anyway, I figure those are the same people who will give you big lectures about the “endtimes”-even though those are the same dire warnings I’ve been hearing my entire life.

My own personal end times will get here eventually, and those are the only end times I spend my energy on, and I suggest you all do the same. Live your life. Yes, go Zen on yourself and everyone else and appreciate the moment you’re in. Make sure you stop, several times every day, and just experience whatever is going on. Even if it’s painful. Sometimes feeling the pain is better than resisting it or denying it. Experience your work. Stop and look at what you’re doing, even if it seems mindless and boring. Remind yourself that this moment, honestly, this particular moment is IT. None of us are guaranteed anything-not tomorrow, not 20 years from now, not this afternoon. So stop and make sure you aren’t missing the moments of your life. We don’t know how many there are going to be.

I had a boyfriend once who was constantly letting me down. Once, we were supposed to drive to the mountains for the day-I lived somewhere else then-and he changed his mind when I called to remind him. He didn’t feel like it, he said, he wanted to stay home and watch TV. When I pointed out that he’d done this each time we were supposed to take a day trip he laughed  and said “Oh, there’ll be other Saturdays, get over it.” I lost it then. I told him I was going to the mountains for the day, I was leaving at 8am and if he wanted to go, he was welcome, but I wasn’t staying home. When I got home the next night (yes, I went alone and had a great time!) he was astounded and upset that I had been gone all day. He was worried, he said, what if something had happened? I said the only thing that had happened was I realized I had no idea how many Saturdays I had and I wasn’t going to waste them watching TV with him. You may have figured out by now that I also decided I wasn’t going to waste any more of them on him. I didn’t and now when I really want to do something, I figure out a way to do it.

Here’s a quote I ran across the other day that made all kinds of lights go off in my head. I hope it helps you:

“Walker, there is no path; the path is made by walking.” Antonio Machado.

So walk already.


My current gallery, check back often. I’m always workingcommon%20ground%20oct%20copy common%20ground%20oct%20night.windowred toddler.chair.4 toddler.chair.3 teapot_3 teapot_4



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Mermaid Desk front view

Mermaid Desk front view

teapot.4 teapot.3 teapot.2 dragon.con2 dragon.can petal.bowl.2 duck.2 duck.1 These range in size from 3" long, .5" wide to 4" wide and 2.5" long. They all use knotted cord. I don't use any special clasps. I think this jewelry looks better with the plain cord. screen treasurebox2.LR oillamp.LR orangeinside.LR jeweledpot.LR

copper pot

copper pot

Blue cannonball pot

Blue cannonball pot

Joy in every language frames the images that are special to Susan. The circel includes a dolphin, a butterfly, a black cat, a crane, hearts and flowers

Joy in every language frames the images that are special to Susan. The circel includes a dolphin, a butterfly, a black cat, a crane, hearts and flowers

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Pieces of gourd that are always left over I draw on. I use them for Jewlery, decorations for pots, etc.

Pieces of gourd that are always left over I draw on. I use them for Jewlery, decorations for pots, etc.

Dargonfly potpourri and decorated pot

Dargonfly potpourri and decorated pot

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A long, dark night

My head is spinning. I’ve tried to get to sleep several times and I keep thinking about all the comments I’ve read about the Connecticut tragedy. Many are calling for stricter gun laws. Many are asking “Why?”  They are shouting at elected officials to  “do something!” Do what? The shooter is dead. The shooter’s mother is dead. We aren’t going to get answers to why because the only person who knows is dead. His mother probably couldn’t answer even if she wasn’t dead. This isn’t a movie, where everything is tidied up in the end. Life isn’t TV, or a movie or a YouTube video. Life is messy and painful and full of questions no one can answer.

Shouting and shaking our fists at the government doesn’t help the families who are shattered. They are dealing with the kind of loss most of us cannot imagine. They are staggering, their hearts ripped from their chests, still beating. How can we help them? How can we show them that while we can’t feel what they feel, we can empathize? I wonder how long it will take the strongest of them to begin the long road back to their lives. How long will it take them to get up and go to work without collapsing midday? Will their colleagues understand and let them go home without resentment? Will their boss understand and keep signing a paycheck? Will their neighbors and friends understand and forgive them?

Some of these parents and family members will, after a very long time, be able to work full days, care for their other children and partners, make dinner, and do the laundry. Some of them will begin to focus on their lives and work to make it meaningful again. Some, I fear, will not and their lives will become a very long night of anguish.

Knowing this, what possible law could help? We cannot legislate morality, empathy or common sense. The shooter’s mother registered her guns, took her son to the shooting range and apparently tried to be a responsible gun owner. I don’t know how responsible it is to teach a disabled person to shoot-maybe she thought he wouldn’t be a victim if he could defend himself. Unfortunately, a lot of people in this country think defending yourself requires a gun. It didn’t work out that way, did it? I don’t know what was in her mind, and we won’t ever find out. Still, what law could have changed what happened? She would simply have done whatever the law required for her to own a gun, and the boy would still have had access.  At the same time, I think stricter gun laws is a good idea, and long overdue. There’s no reason to give unbalanced people access to weapons that can take so many lives so quickly. The NRA has bought too many government officials, had things their way for too long regarding gun control. Make owning guns more difficult. Make owning illegal guns even more difficult.

Still, I don’t believe there is any blanket solution to the problem of violence. Any change we make we must make individually. Gandhi said “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Yes, we want to see a change, right now, this minute. It doesn’t happen that way. True change is slow, and starts with individuals. As individuals, we must do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Sure, let’s do something about gun control. But don’t stop there. We must look at the environment that creates a lost soul like Adam Lanza. Fractured families, isolation, lack of community, and meaningless lives are all part of the problem. We can’t fix them all with a law. We have to start individually, in our own lives, in our families, our communities. Otherwise we will all be trapped in this dark night of anguish.

Winter is coming

I am going into a new job. I’ll be running a group home for developmentally disabled people. I’m excited, making plans and looking forward tp helping people live their life in a meaningful way. I can make art and teach residents. There should be time for writing. I can go through the winter without worrying-for the first time-if I’m going to have enough heat to last. I won’t be driving my car so I won’t have to worry about driving on slick, icy roads to get to work.

The downside is I won’t be home every night with my beloved pets. I’ll adjust, and so will they.  Learning to adjust to whatever reality you find yourself in is important. We don’t control anyone, or anything, except our own behavior, so sometimes our circumstances are less than ideal. Stressing and bitching about things you can’t control is pointless. You only guarantee your own unhappiness. I’ll get one day a week off and plan to spend it at home, cuddled with my cats, reading or something equally meditative.

Today I’m going to help out at Common Ground, the shop I hope to partner in once I retire (3 short years away!) I’ll come home tonight and write. And cuddle with Max and Annie. I’ve got until the 29th; I leave the morning of the 30th to take my new job. I’m basically “filling up” on my little home, my cat family, my solitude and quiet time. I’d hoped I would get a visitor or two before I left, but this is a terrible time to ask people to add to overflowing Holiday commitments.

I’ll be posting more often-no excuses now!- so maybe some of you can offer suggestions on the subjects I’ve posted concerning blog layout, making the blog my art and writing website and dropping the art website, etc. Hope to hear from you! In the meantime, enjoy your own holiday commitments.